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It's all about producing ideas, not objects

Bruce Cornell and Keith Daniel (AFR, June 17) accuse me of perpetuating a "backwater mentality" when suggesting that they should consider licensing their nano-technology to existing firms overseas rather than attempting to become competitors with those firms who can be expected to develop substitute technologies. I do not believe such thinking will reduce possibilities for the Australian economy. Indeed, I believe developments such as the nanomachine are key to Australia's future success. The point is that in order to continue being innovative and encourage finance (from government or elsewhere) we need to demonstrate that successful innovations get translated into high economic returns. The appropriate path to maximum return is to consider all routes, including licensing, joint ventures, other co-operative arrangements, and perhaps manufacturing.

Cornell and Daniel argue that I am being short-termist about this. While I agree that taking into account future generations of technologies is important, this does not necesarily strengthen the case for manufacturing. The question I have for these scientists is: Do you believe that overseas companies, as a result of this achievement, will ignore the important research capabilities you have developed? Won't they continue to come to Australian firms specialising purely in research with funding and resources to facilitate future innovation? Isn't making Australia a producer of ideas rather than objects what this is all about? Joshua Gans, Associate Professor in Economics Melbourne Business School University of Melbourne, Vic
Letter to the Editor, Australian Financial Review, Thursday 19th June, 1997, p.20.